While opener London O’Connor’s Casio beats and playfully simple melodies were nostalgic and innocently satisfying, and follow-up act rapper Hodgy (of Odd Future fame) gave an engaging and commanding performance, my attention after those fantastic openers was completely focused into anticipation for Noise Pop 25’s headliner of the night. BADBADNOTGOOD, a Canadian jazz quartet comprised of keyboardist Matthew A. Tavares, bassist Chester Hansen, drummer Alexander Sowinski, and as of 2016, newcomer saxophonist Leland Whitty, offers a uniquely eclectic approach to their craft.
The original trio formed as a collegiate jazz combo with a particular love for hip-hop, covering and eventually collaborating with celebrated rappers such as MF DOOM and Ghostface Killah. Their jazz-structured approach to instrumental hip-hop on their records, sometimes accompanied by rap and vocal features, is simultaneously driven and laid-back. I knew there would be plenty of dazed, relaxed dancing, but I was particularly eager to experience whatever else would manifest from the performance.
Entering the stage with a cover of The Champs’ participation-required classic “Tequila,” the quartet quickly established that they were going to make the performance as fun as they could, and pull the crowd into their own circle of excitement in the process. While the musicians themselves were plain-clothed and nonchalant in presence, their music clearly conveyed an underlying vibrancy within the performers. Mostly playing material from their two most recent albums, III (2014) and IV (2016), the group was clearly entertaining a dedicated crowd, who enthusiastically cheered the band through the climaxes of solos and moved as a singular unit to the gravity of the beat. Even in the rare moment I stood still to collect myself, the collective waves of movement on the floor physically pulled me back into the action. It was a strange anomaly experiencing such an energetic instrumental-only performance; the crowd was probably the most enthralled I’ve ever seen without once singing along.
The impressively large range of dynamics within the music was the core of the show. At their best, the quartet surged unrelenting energy into the crowd, then suddenly dropped back into slow grooves, chilling the excitement without ever retracting the constant danceability in the air. Following jazz tradition, the musicians gave each other space (occasionally even leaving the stage) to allow full focus on the rotating soloist of the moment, who surged fervently, then guided the crowd through the haze of slower tempos.
While I expected the relaxed nature of the laid-back grooves in their studio recordings to be present in their live show, I was surprised and wholly excited by how energetic and fiery the band became as the night progressed. Drummer Alexander Sowinski, who also gave the grand majority of the crowd-thanking and proud recognition for his bandmates in between songs, constantly pushed the energy level higher. The rest of the band was fully aware of Sowinski’s impressive intensity throughout the night; during their performance of title-track “IV,” saxophonist Leland Whitty even gave Sowinski a satisfied smirk before returning order to the chaos with the song’s melodic refrain.
Well beyond any of my expectations of the music that I had previously described as “perfect to chill out to,” Sowinski’s dramatic calling on the crowd to scream after an in-unison count, 1. 2, 1,2,3,4… sent a shockwave through the front of the crowd and created, of all things, a mosh pit at a jazz show. In the moment, however, the swirling chaos didn’t feel out of place, and the increasingly punk-leaning drumming encouraged at least three more mosh pits during the rest of the night. Alternatively, Sowinski also called on the incredibly willing crowd several times to sway their arms in the air, creating a peaceful sea of bodies for the dense vibrations of the music to swim through. The crowd was undeniably locked into both the calm beauty and exhilarating drive of BADBADNOTGOOD’s journey of a performance, and based on the constant interaction with the crowd and passionate musicianship, it seemed the band was thrilled to have such a captivated audience.
Written by Dylan Medlock
Photo by Dave Mangels/Getty